Farm to School in the Cafeteria - Getting Started

Tangipahoa Parish - Martha Vinyard's Cooking Club

Tangipahoa Parish School System - Martha Vinyard's Cooking Club

What is Farm to School?

Farm to School Defined

What is Farm to School?

Farm to School enhances the connection students and communities have with fresh local food by bringing local food into schools; educating students on food, health and nutrition; and providing hands on learning opportunities inside and outside of the classroom. We define Farm to School activities broadly yet inclusively within the following three core areas:

The core elements of Farm to School activities are:

  1. Procurement of local and regional food products;
  2. Gardening, based at schools and preschools; and
  3. Education, food and farm related.

Louisiana Farm to School Frequently Asked Questions

The most commonly asked questions about Farm to School in Louisiana, answered.

FAQ for Food Service

What is Farm to School?

Farm to School enriches the connection communities have with local, healthy food and food producers by changing food purchasing and educational activities at schools and preschools. Farm to School programs are unique to each school location but are defined broadly within three core areas of activities:

  1. Procurement of local and regional food products;
  2. Gardening, based at schools and preschools; and
  3. Education, food and farm related.

Why Should I Offer Locally Grown and Raised Foods in My Cafeteria?

Seasonal offerings can support meal pattern implementation.

Offering seasonal, locally grown and raised foods at school compliments nutrition standards and increases student interest in new foods by strengthening the understanding of where food comes from and the importance of healthy food choices.

Local products can be less expensive!

At the height of their harvest season, local produce can be less expensive due to lower transportation costs and also because the producer needs to move the products quickly.

Fresh, local products can provide better quality and taste.

Locally sourced food doesn’t have to travel very far so you may find that locally grown also means a greater variety of fresh and high quality foods that taste better. Food that is shipped long distances has a shorter shelf life than fresh food too.

Locally grown can mean greater variety.

If you work directly with a local farmer, you might be able to ask for exactly what you want instead of being tied to standard specifications (See How To Use A Request for Information and Forward Contracts for tools on how to ask for specific products).

Farm to School can make school nutrition work more fun and satisfying.

Knowing that you’ve supported local farmers and offered students delicious, fresh food that they are interested in trying can bring job satisfaction and engagement to your food service team.

Is It Okay for Me to Purchase Local Food?

Yes. The USDA encourages schools to incorporate local purchasing and promotion into their meal and snack programs. This can be done a number of ways depending on your budget, staffing and availability of local foods. Remember, starting small is a good idea. Additional guidance on how to purchase local food can be found in the Local Food Procurement section of Louisiana Fit Kids and through your state Farm to School network, the Louisiana Farm to School Alliance.

What Food Can I Purchase Locally?

Local spans the menu. A wide range of vegetables, fruit, cheese and other diary products, whole grains and meat could all potentially be available from local producers. Whether there are farmers, farmer coops or distributors able to meet your specific needs will depend on your location. (See How to Find Local Food and use our Cycle Menu Seasonality Wheel to determine what is in season)

Do Local Farmers Carry Liability Insurance?

Most farms carry liability insurance. This is important to clarify with producers you purchase from. Sometimes, insurance policies will cover only accidents on their property or at a farmers market, but most policies will also cover a business in the case of a food-borne illness from food they sell (product liability insurance).

Is It Safe to Purchase Local Food?

Yes. Regardless of where your food is coming from, you want to be assured food safety is being maximized. There are a handful of ways to do this:

On Site Visit - A School Nutrition Director can tour the farm/orchard/facility and assess food safety protocols first hand.
Producer Survey - A School Nutrition Director can ask suppliers to fill out a survey that includes information on production practices related to food safety.
GAP Certification - Some farms choose to pay to have a Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) audit performed by a third party. These audits are currently geared toward larger-scale farms and can be quite expensive for small and medium-sized farms to complete. In Louisiana, there is no state requirement for third party certification for farms selling to institutions. Some distributors are beginning to require third party certification of all their suppliers.
GAP Trained/Educated - Producers can become GAP trained or educated by attending a GAP training which is generally held by the LSU Ag Center. Many schools accept documentation of this training for food safety requirements. (Note that attending GAP training is different from becoming GAP certified).
Group GAP – Under this program, any group of producers or supply chain partners who come together to implement a shared food safety program is considered a group and can apply for group certification.

Another important consideration with food safety is being able to trace back any food believed to be contaminated. This is much easier to do when you know which farm your food came from. It is a best practice for Child Nutrition Directors to make sure suppliers can deliver products in boxes labeled with the farm name as well as the contents and the packing date.

Many School Nutrition Directors trust local producers because they know them personally and are aware of their farm practices. Some School Nutrition Directors feel locally sourced food is as safe as, or even safer than, foods coming from across the country, as they are typically handled less before getting to their schools which means there are fewer potential sources of contamination.

Can I Buy Local from My Distributor?

Yes. There are several channels for getting local food to your school and through a distributor, which allow schools across Louisiana to source local products. Many distributors have carried some Louisiana-grown products and regional products for years and as more customers request local products, distributors are responding with more options. It’s important you tell your distributors that you are interested in supporting Louisiana producers. In order to promote your local purchasing, it’s also useful to request grower-identified products that identifies the specific farm it comes from, rather than simply a broad "Louisiana-grown" label. This can also be called "label of origin".

If you have a strong relationship with your distributor, they can be strong partners in supporting your Farm to School program and helping to incorporate more local products onto your menus.

Can I Afford This?

The answer is yes, you can afford buying local products but you have to be aware of your budget and broader goals as you figure out how to integrate local products into your program.

Also, be aware of the seasonality of local products. This will help you purchase the best products at the best price. There are several tools that you can use to assess what is available to you (See the resources in Getting Started). Start small. Purchasing one local item per month is a great way to evaluate food costs and begin forecasting and menu planning for incorporating more local products. You will discover as you go that some foods purchased from local suppliers will cost more and others will cost less. Analyzing and forecasting will help you find what local foods may cost more per pound but have equivalent value because you get more useable portions per pound. If you find a local item your students like, you may be able to offset any additional cost through increased participation.

For frequently asked questions about Louisiana Farm to School, visit www.louisianafarmtoschool.org.

Tips on Getting Started with Farm to School for Child Nutrition Programs

Practical advice for food service directors and staff to build a successful Farm to School program.

Tips for Getting Started

Getting Started for Child Nutrition Directors

Farm to School programs connect schools and pre-schools with local farms by serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing food, agriculture and nutrition education and supporting local communities.

Farm to School activities can include featuring fresh, local food in school meals, cooking demonstrations, taste tests, edible school gardening, farm field trips, and standards-based experiential learning in the classroom. These activities compliment nutrition standards and increase student interest in new foods by strengthening the understanding of where food comes from and the importance of healthy food choices.

Here Are a Few Tips to Get Started!

  1. Do your homework
    Find out who else is doing Farm to School and incorporating local products onto their menus. Learning from the success and challenges of your peers will help navigate the planning process for your Farm to School program. (TIP: Reach out to your State Contacts with the Department of Education and Louisiana Farm to School Alliance. Also visit the USDA Farm to School Census to see what schools are buying local food).
    Research what farms are nearby and what local products are available at what time of the year (TIP: See How to Find Local Food on the LA Fit Kids Local Food Procurement page. You can send a Request for Information (RFI) to local extension agents, growers associations, farmers markets, and Farm to School networks to help you gather market information).
  2. Decide how you will source local products
    Will you go through a distributor, a buyers co-op, directly from a producer, from the school garden, from a farmers market? The answer to this question will affect what local products are available to you.
    Consult with your school board and purchasing department for vendor requirements and local purchasing regulations.
    You may use a combination of methods to procure local products and eventually you may use several methods at the same time. This list is not inclusive of how SFA’s may source local products..
  3. Set a goal for why your district wants to source local products (this will help you define local). The most successful Farm to School programs have a strong team supporting a shared goal!
  4. Define local for your school district (Remember that there is no federal definition of local. The SFA defines local for their school district and this definition can evolve and change over time. How you define local should be based on the goals and needs of the district.)
  5. Explore your current menus to see what items you can highlight that are local products
    Conduct a quick menu audit to reveal what items your school/SFA is already purchasing locally.
    How many students are you feeding?
    How much product do you need?
    What are you spending on local products?
    How much can you spend total?
  6. Identify one or two items on your menu or in an existing recipe that you can substitute each month with a seasonal product and what quantity you will need (For example, you might consider substituting a local variety of citrus for bananas during peak harvest season.)
  7. Use taste tests and offer small samples several days before serving the new food item or recipe on the line (some research suggests a child will taste a food item up to seven times before deciding if they like it or not).
  8. Promote what you are doing! Farm to School and serving local in the lunchroom is a success and sharing this success is a key ingredient. Highlight local products on menus, send home announcements in newsletters and share your goal for buying local with community partners (TIP: Visit the LA Fit Kids Promoting Healthy Foods resource page for sample promotion templates).

Check out the Getting Started Resources below for more information on menu planning. Also, see the Integrating Local Foods into Child Nutrition Programs guidelines from USDA Farm to School.

Getting Started Resources

These resources and tools will support you in menu planning which is key to getting started with Farm to School!

Resources and Tools

Menu Planning Tools from the FNS Healthy Meals Resource System: This website provides menu planning tools, guides, conversion calculators and more.
Louisiana Harvest Calendar: This calendar provides Louisiana specialty crop items and the month(s) they are available.
Louisiana Cycle Menu Seasonality Wheel: This interactive wheel shows local food product availability in Louisiana by season and month.
Integrating Local Food into Child Nutrition Programs: This fact sheet details menu planning when getting started with Farm to School in your child nutrition program.
Pecks to Pounds: This chart, developed by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, translates farm units into pounds and is useful in communicating with local vendors.
USDA Farm to School Census: Look at what schools and districts in Louisiana and in your region are purchasing local food items to get an idea of what you can incorporate on your menu.

Other Resources for Getting Started

Other Resources

USDA Community Food Systems Resource Site: Visit the USDA Farm to School database of resources for an in depth and step-by-step guide to getting started with a Farm to School program.
Benefits of Farm to School: Learn about the benefits of Farm to School for food service, students, community and farmers.
State Contacts: Stay connected with your state Farm to School contacts.

Photo Credit: Tangipahoa Parish School System

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